Want to save the news? Look to Google. So says this Atlantic article about the future of journalism and the sustainability of professional news-gathering. Some quotes:
So how can news be made sustainable? The conceptual leap in Google’s vision is simply to ignore print. It’s not that everyone at the company assumes “dead tree” newspapers and magazines will disappear...But all of their plans for reinventing a business model for journalism involve attracting money to the Web-based news sites now available on computers, and to the portable information streams that will flow to whatever devices evolve from today’s smart phones, iPods and iPads, Nooks and Kindles, and mobile devices of any other sort. This is a natural approach for Google, which is, except for its Nexus One phone, a strictly online company.
The three pillars of the new online business model, as I heard them invariably described, are distribution, engagement, and monetization. That is: getting news to more people, and more people to news-oriented sites; making the presentation of news more interesting, varied, and involving; and converting these larger and more strongly committed audiences into revenue, through both subscription fees and ads.
“The three most important things any newspaper can do now are experiment, experiment, and experiment,” Hal Varian said.
In fact, such advice is both natural and inconceivable for most of today’s journalists. Natural, in that every book, every article, every investigative project, every broadcast is its own form of pure start-up enterprise, with nothing guaranteed until it’s done (if then). Inconceivable, in that news businesses themselves are relatively static, and the very name “Newspaper Guild” suggests how tradition-bound many journalists are. We pride ourselves on defending standards of language, standards of judgment, and even a form of public service that can seem antique. Whether or not this makes for better journalism, it complicates the embrace of radical new experiments.
The other implicitly connecting theme is that an accumulation of small steps can together make a surprisingly large difference. The forces weighing down the news industry are titanic. In contrast, some of the proposed solutions may seem disappointingly small-bore. But many people at Google repeated a maxim from Clay Shirky, of New York University, in an essay last year about the future of the news: “Nothing will work, but everything might.”